WHITNEY: Setting a good example for my child

All I did was nudge the trashcan with my foot. Now we kick that can every night before bed.

In the sleepless first months after Olivia came home, I posted something on Facebook lamenting my baby’s lack of routine. A friend of mine, whose family is from/partially still in India, commented back, saying something along the lines of “My aunties would die laughing at this Western idea of babies having routines. They do what they want, and your job is to respond.”

That’s been in the back of my mind ever since. If Olivia wants something, she’ll let me know. I can’t force food down her throat just because it’s lunchtime. I can’t implore her to take a nap just because it’s 3 p.m. If she’s hungry, she’ll eat. If she’s tired, she’ll sleep. It’s my job to offer her the chance to satisfy those needs.

Still, we’ve established a little bit of a bedtime routine now that she’s gotten older. Around 8 p.m., she grabs my hand and leads me to the stairs so I can move the “gate” which is actually just a blanket rack, and we head upstairs. Along the way, we say goodnight to various household objects a la “Goodnight Moon.” I shut the door to her room almost all the way, nudging a tin trashcan in front of it to keep the door from swinging all the way back open. I grab a blanket, she shuts off the light, we rocks, we say goodnight and she’s out.

It’s nearly scientific for me, but I hadn’t realized until recently how much Olivia had caught on to the habit. One night following a bath, she left the bathroom bidding me, “nigh nigh,” went to her room, shut the door almost all the way and then kicked the tin trashcan with gusto before walking to the rocking chair.

The purpose of kicking the can was lost in translation, but I give her credit for nailing the details.

“Mom always kicks this thing before bed, so I probably need to kick this thing if I’m going to bed.” Brilliant. Perfect. 10/10.

We used to throw dirty towels down the stairs to be collected and washed later, a bad habit that was fixed after Olivia pushed her ride-on car down the stairs and proclaimed, “Uh oh.”

I flatiron my hair most days while Olivia plays nearby in the bathroom, normally standing on a chair and fiddling with a dish full of necklaces on the counter. Next thing I know, she’s digging in a drawer and rubbing an unplugged curling iron over her head.

Grandma is trying to edit her language when ranting about work on speakerphone (and that’s always a challenge when the topic turns to frustrating work situations, right?) because the kid is repeating new things every day.

I hear her muttering “wuzzat? wuzziss?” to herself after she snatches not-her-things off tabletops and bathroom counters, and it sounds like she’s repeating the same questions I ask her about new found objects. When she kisses the cats, I tell her, “That’s nice!” Now every cat kiss ends with “niiiice.”

Little shadow is never more than two steps behind, so we’re all treading more carefully now than ever before.

It’s kind of the joy and fear of parenting, this performance of example setting. I want to trust myself to instill good values, a sense of empathy and all that. I also worry about all my little quirks, the things I don’t consciously realize about myself, influencing her in a negative way.

I may or may not have caught her picking at her fingernails last week, a bad habit I’ve been trying to shake for years and one which I revert to so subconsciously that other have to remind me I’m doing it.

Whether she mimics the bedtime routine I inadvertently created or picks up one of my bad habits, I get to take the credit. I don’t know how I feel about that, and I just thought you should know.

All we can do is try to do our best though, right? When all else fails, there’s a trashcan in Olivia’s room that we can kick at the end of every day.